Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo. The second is intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's ministry to the poor and victims of natural disasters or war, through the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." -Luke 1:38
Years and years ago, a seminary student told me -- as an argument against my hope to become a priest -- that Jesus was the model for men and Mary was the model for women. I should find my vocation in something other than priesthood. Ah, I said politely, and filed the exchange away in my memory. Under "twits."
Because Mary is the model for everyone. Learning to allow God to lead is a life's work, and it is not for sissies. It can be fearsome -- it certainly was for Mary, an unwed mother in a small town, dependent on the considerable understanding of a husband-to-be she probably barely knew. But it is hard for all of us to question our very partial understanding of almost everything of any importance. We don't know it's partial. We insist upon our own interpretation of our lives, as if we knew the whole story, when we don't. We know only half -- the half that has already happened. The future is unknown, and the future is where we're heading.
In so many cases, the past helps you get there. But in some, it holds you back. The preacher in Ecclesiastes was wrong: there are new things under the sun, things we won't recognize at first. We'd better learn to look for them.
And more: not even the past we think we know is complete. We have a story about it that we believe, but it's never more than a story. We don't have the whole picture, even of the things we've lived though. We only know it from our side.
Mary wasn't smarter than we are. She didn't have special knowledge. She, like us, only knew her side. But she was brave enough to trust in God for the rest, to lean on a wider and deeper vision than her own.
2 Samuel 7:4,8-16*Romans 16:25-27*Luke 1:26-38*Ps 132 or 132:8-15
And here is the ERD meditation:
Mothers and Angels
The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus." -Luke 1:30
What did Mary fear, do you suppose? The angel? Most people think so, since we know that angels in scripture were not really the gentle blonde women with wings we usually imagine them to be, but fearsome-looking creatures indeed. I imagine that the angel's message itself was worrisome, though, and not just because of Mary's uncertain martial status. All mothers are afraid, even if only in the silence of their hearts, at least once or twice during that those nine months: Will my baby be all right? Will I be a good mom? Will the birth be difficult? Will I be able to handle everything?
In country after country, African mothers-to-be have reason to be afraid. They and their children are especially vulnerable to malarial infection in countries where it is rampant, and women of childbearing age account for the largest demographic group of new HIV/AIDS infections on the African continent. Medicines effective in preventing the transmission of HIV infection from mother to child during birth are in short supply or nonexistent: the fear of leaving her baby orphaned and ill accompanies invades the happiness and hope that rightfully belongs to each new mother.
Fear stalks the mothers and children of Africa. But remember what angels really look like: some of them carry flaming swords! They fight the evil that seeks to destroy the children of God. And we can be angels, in our way: with our gifts, Episcopal Relief and Development supports health screening, neonatal and maternal health care and ongoing help for families facing the loss of parents in Burundi, Zambia, Tanzania, Congo, South Africa, Malawi, fighting the devastation disease leaves in its wake.
The evil of disease is potent in Africa: not every mother and child will be saved. But more and more will have angels on their side.
To learn more about ERD's work or to make a donation, visit http://www.er-d.org/ or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.